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Saturday, November 19, 2005 

What's in Your Constitution?

I get the feeling that many people have their own Constitutions. The one that I've been reading and studying seems to be very different from the ones used by others. Check out the Journal Sentinel's editorial page today, specifically the Weekly Laurels and Laments. This section is usually rife with stupidity. The first one is the focus of this post.
The U.S. Supreme Court passed up a chance this week to set right a grave injustice: a Florida law that permanently bars ex-felons from the ballot box. In most states, including Wisconsin, felons have their voting rights restored once they've completed their sentences. But in a few states, the ban lasts a lifetime - an injustice because they've paid their debt to society. What's more, civic engagement ought to be encouraged, not outlawed, as a way of reintegrating ex-felons into society. Permanent state bans popped up in the South in general in the Jim Crow era as one of the ruses for keeping black people from voting. Whether that's the intent of the Florida law, it's certainly the effect. The law disenfranchises 10% of voting-age African-Americans but only 4% of non-African-Americans. Surely, a strict reading of the Constitution and of the Voting Rights Act would require striking down this unjust state law. Yet, exasperatingly, the Supreme Court declined to consider a challenge to the law.
Oh, my! Quite exasperating indeed. The editors say that this law barring felons from voting is a "grave injustice" and the Court should've overturned it. Why? The editors may view the law as bad policy, but it is not the role of the Court to be a super-legislature, overturning valid laws just because they disagree with them. Notice I did say that this was a valid law. It is. The Supreme Court examined this issue already in Richardson v Ramirez and decided that these bans are Constitutional. Haven't we heard nothing but "respect precedent, respect precedent" in the recent week?

Aside from the previous case law, we can rely on the text of the Constitution to show that these laws are valid. Section 2 of the Fourteeth Amendment includes the following language...
But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,(See Note 15) and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Hello, pertinent language. It's right there. The states can take the right to vote away from rebels and criminals.

The editors are illustrating a very common view of the Court: they should strike down laws I don't like, period. Never mind the Constitution, I just want my favored results. Well, sorry. That's not the way it's supposed to go. The Court is not a super-legislature. Their role is limited. In this case, the Florida law is Constitutional (nevermind the fact that felons can petition the state attorney general to regain the right to vote) and that is the only role that the Court should have. If the editors want to direct their ire at someone, direct it at the Florida legislature and the Florida citizens. Stop trying to pervert the role of my Court.

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About me

  • I'm Steve
  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
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